Cam Talbot already knows the date.
In the thick of summer’ heat, his mind can wander past Christmas.
On Dec. 27, the Calgary Flames will make the three-hour trek north for their first meeting with Talbot’s former club, the Edmonton Oilers — payors of his most significant contract and granters of his first real shot to stick as a starter in the National Hockey League.
"It’s kinda weird we don’t play till December," says Talbot, now finding himself aligned with the southern front of the Battle of Alberta. "It’s always been a heated rivalry, and I’ve been part of it for four years. It’s always an exciting time. I’m excited for the opportunity to switch sides."
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The last line of defence on a young club blessed with the most exhilarating forward in a lightyear, Talbot’s Oilers weren’t supposed to only qualify for the post-season once in his tenure.
He certainly wasn’t supposed to fumble hold of the starter’s gig to an unproven KHL import in his 30s, nor post a career-worst .892 save percentage and 3.40 goals-against average — the worst stat line of any NHL goaltender who played at least 30 games in 2018-19.
Nor was he supposed to be rented for spare parts to Philadelphia, where veteran goalies get recycled like every other Tuesday morning. Or watch his salary plummet from a career-high $4.2 million to less than $3 million.
"A perfect storm. Injuries to key players on the team. Some things went not so well for myself," says the Caledonia, Ont., native when we speak to him in Toronto. He’d much rather focus forward than pick apart the past.
"Once you start overthinking things, you’re not playing your game. You’re trying to do too much. I’ve taken some time this summer to step back and do what’s made me successful. Heading into training camp, I’ll be ready to play."
Funny, Talbot says, that until former teammate Milan Lucic was dealt within province, he didn’t know a single member of the Flames roster.
Mikael Backlund was the first to welcome Talbot after the free agent signed a one-year, $2.75-million prove-it deal on Canada Day. Travis Hamonic and captain Mark Giordano called the following day.
Shortly after, Talbot flew to Calgary to pick out a new home for his family and met a posse of his new teammates at the Stampede — a perfect ice-breaker.
Giving Talbot an opportunity to fill the veteran role in a tandem vacated by new Oiler Mike Smith, Flames GM Brad Treliving described Talbot’s miserable winter as "a blip on the radar," betting on his size (six-foot-four, 196 pounds) and athleticism, and banking on a return of poise.
Left unsaid: Talbot will have the advantage of sliding behind a healthier and more dynamic blue line, one helmed by the reigning Norris champ.
"For me, it’s just a reset. Hit the reset button. Leave last year in the past," says Talbot, whose career save percentage remains a respectable .915 despite 2018-19’s stumbles.
"Up until last year, I’ve had a pretty good career, and I think I’ve proved myself, so it’s about getting back to what made me successful and getting off on the right foot."
For a moment, Talbot believed his 2019 deadline trade to the Flyers might’ve been the ctrl + alt + delete he needed, but Philly had found its man in rookie call-up Carter Hart, with whom Talbot trained last summer.
Today, Talbot maintains he was treated well by the Flyers but admits he envisioned seeing more ice than the scattered three-and-half games of work he was granted down the stretch of another empty playoff bid.
"Carter is their guy of the future, and I was looking for a different opportunity. We found that in Calgary, and hopefully it works out," Talbot says.
His familiarity with Treliving and head coach Bill Peters – whose Team Canada edition Talbot backstopped to a gold medal at the 2016 IIHF World Championship with a record-tying four shutouts — made for an easy decision.
As did a reasonable opportunity to vie for a No. 1 gig.
Intended incumbent David Rittich, 26, and the Flames settled on a two-year contract a week ago for the identical $2.75 million cap hit Talbot got.
Yet Peters has a history of monitoring his netminders’ workload — if only because he’s yet to have one run away with the gig outright — and will place a premium on winning.
It’s not supposed to be this way.
But if he can prove the more reliable option, Talbot might once again be a No. 1 goaltender for a Stanley Cup–dreaming Albertan hockey team.
The man made it despite never being drafted and already clawed his way out from Henrik Lundqvist’s king-size shadow. He’s no stranger to adversity.
"[Rittich] played extremely well last year and kinda took that spot and earned his right to battle for it. I’m going in. I want to complement him," says Talbot, training hard for the battles, internal and external, that await.
"Bill has already said that he likes to split his goalies. He doesn’t like to play one guy a ton more than the other, so I think it’s going to be a healthy competition between us for as many starts as we can get.
"That’s how everyone gets better."